Tony Awards Light Up the Big Apple

It was Broadway’s biggest night, and though I found myself here in New York viewing the 57th annual Tony Awards, I knew that at the same time the many sophisticated Texas theatergoers I serve throughout the year were gathered around T.V. sets in the Lone Star State. Billy Joel’s opening number, “New York State of Mind,” was dramatically telecast right from a crowded Times Square, and one could not help but feel the triumph of this post 9/11 New York City as it prepared to celebrate the best of American theater. No wonder Broadway has garnered a record $720.9 million in the 2002-3 season.

Next, the cameras cut to the cathedral of American theaters, Radio City Music Hall, for this much-anticipated awards show. Without attempting to summarize the three hours that followed, allow me to share a few impressions. Even though there were no Rockettes, the exuberant full cast choreography from “Movin’ Out,” took flight with a dance line that blew the roof off the celebrity-filled room. (The show’s choreographer, Twayla Tharp, was moments away from capturing her Tony). And there was quite a bit more excitement as the lighthearted “Hairspray” began its sweep of awards with Best Original Musical Score for composers Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. The two gentlemen surprised many as they embraced, kissed, and vowed their love for one another while accepting the award. Next, the audience was treated to the delicious lunatic dance frenzy of the “You Can’t Stop the Beat” number from “Hairspray.” It featured raspy-voiced Harvey Fierstein who would take home the Tony as Best Actor in a Musical for his zany “drag” performance. In every way, this number seemed to be the kind of fun-filled escapist romp the nation needed in a time of war and terror, and the show went on to win Best New Musical.

There was a poignant moment as actor, Christopher Reeve, (“Superman”) showed wondrous courage while introducing Best Director of a Play, Joe Mantello. He won for “Take Me Out,” a play about a gay baseball superstar. The handicapped Reeve joked from his wheelchair that his winner had been “randomly selected” because “I don’t do well with envelopes!” “Take Me Out” would also win playwright, Richard Greenberg the award for Best Play.

There was an uninspired and syrupy song number from the nominated “A Year With Frog and Toad,” a show aimed at young audiences and based on Arnold Lobel’s children’s books. I found myself hoping the nation’s kiddies were in bed so they would not be turned off to either Broadway or children’s literature by exposure to this humdrum offering. Not surprisingly, the show is scheduled to close this weekend. Next, from a revue titled “The Play What I Wrote,” there was an unfunny comedy bit from the British team of Sean Foley and Hamish McColl. Where were Laurel & Hardy when we needed them? There was a better laugh when the evening’s host, Hugh Jackman, joked about his forthcoming Broadway Musical, “The Boy From Oz,” explaining he will portray singer-songwriter, Peter Allen, “…the first man to ever marry Liza Minnelli!”

With all due respect to Antonio Banderas, the staged number from the revival, “Nine The Musical” reminded me why I didn’t like the show in its original incarnation years ago. I have always had misgivings about show tunes that you cannot hum on the way home. But the show took home Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Jane Krakowski, and would also win Best Revival of a Musical.

With a nod to the avant-garde, “Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on Broadway” took home the award for Best Special Theatrical Event. There was a fitting tribute to famed artist, the late Al Hirshfeld, renowned for his caricatures of Broadway celebrities. Brian Dennehy and the elegant Vanessa Redgrave took home Best Actor and Best Actress for their work in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” That show would also win Best Revival of a Play. Bernadette Peters brought the audience to its feet with a rendition of “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy” that had a bit too much intense desperation for this viewer. Perhaps that was how she lost her bid for Best Actress in a Musical to the super-charged newcomer, Marissa Jaret Winokur from “Hairspray.” Quipped Winokur: “If a 4-foot-11, chubby New York girl can be a leading lady in a Broadway show and win a Tony, then anything can happen.” Amen!

(The Courier    6.15.03)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at
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